I hope everyone had a happy New Years. Now it is time to get back at it. With this one let’s talk about the difficulties of getting booked into comedy clubs.
If you think about it, comedy clubs are very unique. Comedy is the one of the few performing arts that basically has its own space. There is not a ballet bar, or a poem emporium. This obviously means that if you want to ply your trade in stand-up this is one of the first places you would look. You would think it would be as simple as emailing the person who books talent at the club and if they see a use for you, then you are good to go. Well, it is not that easy. Let us talk about the simple fact that there is only so many comedy clubs in the country. Sure some cities like Chicago and New York City have several, but a lot of places may have just one club, and that one club has between 48 to 52 weekends (depending on things like when holidays fall and such) in which to fill. Most comedy shows have a MC, feature, and headliner. So at most, a club needs three comedians a weekend. Now I hope you see that there are a ton of people that have the capacity to fill these spots, so that makes comedy clubs sort of a gate keeper. If they want to have people return, they want to put on the best show they can afford. That means they have to be a little more picky then say the sardine factory that just needs to fill five canning positions.
Now the above tries to explain why its hard to get booked into comedy clubs on just a numbers aspect. The thing is you have another hurdle, the booker. There are men and women all across this country that book these shows and because they are human and have particular tastes, they will make decisions for a variety of reasons. I have heard them all. From just not that funny to you live too far away and we don’t want to house you. Also because they are human, they are not immune from just grabbing what is nearby. Why book a comedian for a show in Atlanta when they live in Portland? Why not just look in your immediate vicinity. Especially for features because there are a ton of people that can perform between 20-30 minutes of comedy. It is less stress to know that most of your talent is in town. That is why it is really hard to get booked as a MC or feature the farther away you look. They can just grab a local comedian to MC and save money and hassle. They don’t have to worry about comics changing their minds at the last minute because they can’t afford to come perform. You also have to think about the booker and the amount of inquiries they receive on a day to day basis. I can only imagine all the emails and packages they get from comedians that want to work their club. They can’t possibly get to it all. If you receive 200 emails a day, it will get to a point where you will ignore a ton of emails and base your decisions on what your peers are telling you. Then there is just plain ole biases. They may not like musical comedians, or comedians that wear hats on stage. They won’t tell you this outright, but it could keep your from getting work from them.
Here is another thing. Comedy clubs are businesses. They are not non profits that are putting on comedy shows for the good of the community. They are trying to get the audience to buy food and alcohol, and your quips about Tupperware is what is keeping them there. These clubs are looking for people that can put asses in seats. It is not so much how funny you can be, but an as of now undiscovered equation between funny and popular. Why do you think your local club has that former porn star coming to town next week? Because they are popular enough, and sometimes funny enough, to put asses in seats and make the club some money. If you can’t offer them that, then it is hard to break in. This is not so much a concern of MCs and feature acts because they are seen as younger, less experienced comedians, but headliners have to worry about this a lot.
So, how can you increase your chances you may ask. Well, the thing you have to remember is persistence. You have to be able to accept that you will get turned down a lot and keep trying to get in contact with these clubs. You will send out hundreds of emails and you may get one response back. It’s important to know that you can not guess what is going on on the other side of email. The booker may be ignoring emails. They may be seeing it and not responding because you do not fit their place. I will say this, if you got a response and they say no, then you should not keep sending them emails. Accept the no and when you have a new headshot or new video for them to take a look at, then you should probably give it another try. If they say contact again in six months, then do that. I have an spreadsheet (I know!) where I can check off who I have contacted and if they responded to me. I don’t use it as much as I should, but it is helpful in keeping track. You can also hit up the club’s open mic. This is a great way of getting in front of people that can get your booked. Don’t see it as a guarantee that the booker will be there though. If I can get there, I like to do that because networking and getting to know bookers and what they are looking for is a great way to improve your chances of getting work in the future. You can also try booking independent shows in clubs during off nights. Some clubs will let you rent their spot on a night where they are not doing a proper show and you can show them that you have enough pull in the area to be brought back for a weekend. You can also try this with a specialty show. We have a show in Spokane called Drink N Debate, and it is put on at the Spokane Comedy Club every month. The bookers get to see a lot of comedians and can evaluate them for potential work.
The key is being persistent and remembering that it is an uphill battle, but one you will have to go through if you are trying to get into comedy clubs.